Law, Justice and Journalism

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Seeing through the super injunction frenzy

In Journalism, Law on May 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm

By Judith Townend

Amid all the excitement, there are some important legal questions to ask about super injunctions and anonymous privacy injunctions.

Lord Neuberger’s committee report released on Friday 20 May goes some way to provide some clarification, in terms of definitions, procedure and identifying uncertainties.

But the debate is far from over, in the newspapers (see left), Parliament and the Courts.

Latest developments raise very interesting questions about Parliamentary Privilege, Contempt, Scottish law and internet regulation.

My commentary for the Guardian argues that the report cuts through some of the media excitement and hysteria, even if it doesn’t answer all the questions. Here’s an extract:

Keeping a level head in response to screams about superinjunctions does not mean there is no need to scrutinise the secrecy and anonymity of privacy cases. The public and the media need to know what type of cases are taking place in the courts to assure everyone that judges are properly upholding the right to freedom of expression and the principle of open justice.

In that sense, the hysteria of recent months was unsurprising. People simply didn’t know the extent of the superinjunction problem. A centralised secure database, as now recommended by the committee, would help assuage those concerns.

Of course, justice sometimes requires a degree of secrecy, but the media must know why. It was reassuring, then, to hear Neuberger say: “… when it [secrecy] is ordered, the facts of the case and the reason for secrecy should be explained, as far as possible, in an openly available judgment”.

The media and public need to know what the orders are – as was forbidden in the case of Trafigura – and the committee’s recommendations emphasise the important balance between freedom of expression and open justice, and an individual’s right to confidentiality and privacy.

QMUL / City debate: ‘This house believes that the English libel laws are unfit for purpose in the 21st Century’

In Events, Journalism, Law on May 6, 2011 at 10:15 am

By Judith Townend

Legal speakers at a libel reform debate at Queen Mary, University of London, were presented with this motion on Wednesday night: “This house believes that the English libel laws are unfit for purpose in the 21st Century.” Despite the groundswell of support for the Libel Reform campaign – the impetus for the government’s and Lord Lester’s respective defamation bills – the four respondents all wished to speak against the motion.

As Professor Lorna Woods, City Law School, said in her introduction, the case for libel reform has been “very strongly and vociferously put” by the press; now was a chance to hear another side of the story.

Following a speedy history of English libel law from Gavin Sutter, lecturer in media law at Queen Mary, Jonathan Coad, partner at Lewis Silkin, Mark Lewis, solicitor advocate at Taylor Hampton; Professor Alastair Mullis, University of East Anglia; Hugh Tomlinson QC, Matrix Chambers, took turns to address what they perceived as the main issues.

The event, the first of a series of media law seminars, was hosted by the Centre for Commercial Law Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and the City Law School at City University London.

The Ian Tomlinson inquest was justice seen to be done

In City University London, Journalism, Justice on May 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm

By Chris Greer and Eugene McLaughlin

This article first appeared on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site.

The inquest into Ian Tomlinson’s death has concluded that he was unlawfully killed by a police officer at the G20 demonstrations in April 2009. Reported daily via live blogs, this was the first inquest made accessible in real time to millions of virtual onlookers. The Tomlinson inquest is a landmark development in the live coverage of justice.

One of the most noticeable characteristics of the G20 protests was the sheer density and variety of recording devices. Police “kettling” tactics allowed no distinction between journalists, demonstrators and passersby. As a result, police-media-protester-public interactions took place in tight spatial proximity, simultaneously creating a captive audience to surrounding events. In this kind of context, control of the information and communication environment was impossible.

At first, the police strenuously denied any involvement with Tomlinson prior to his collapse. Witness statements immediately contested the police position. But it was the video footage shot by Chris La Jaunie and passed to the Guardian that proved Tomlinson had been struck and pushed to the ground by a police officer. Were it not for this visual evidence, the Metropolitan police service (MPS) would have successfully denied and defused allegations of police violence: the policing of G20 could have ended up in its “Greatest Hits” portfolio of how to police public order events in the capital. Because of the visual evidence, the institutional authority of the police was questioned, and then successfully challenged.

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